Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

I was disheartened by another storyteller who said singing stories, such as ballads, was not "really" storytelling.  I bit my lip and went on without a battle, but was, of course, reminded of the earliest known storytellers who, while playing their instrument of choice, "sang" stories for a meal, room, and board.  Some of the greatest stories ever told, historical, mythological, and folklore, were done so through singing ballads.  "Big John," "Ringo," "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Delta Dawn," "The Gambler," "The City of New Orleans," and the list goes on.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. 


Richelle Putnam

A writer/singer of ballads



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Harry Chapin was one of my favorite "song-tellers," and Stan Rogers' work still knocks me cold. For what it's worth, I've often noticed that people who comment that anything other than what they are doing isn't "really" whatever they think it should be, tend to be rather narrow in scope, thought, and ability. Go right on singing your tales. Tell Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, or Woodie (and Arlo) Guthrie that they aren't (or weren't) great storytellers. Fie upon the person who says otherwise. Keep singing your tales. (I'd still be doing it, too, except an old injury to my right arm doesn't allow me to play any more. I still do the occasional a-cappella piece, though.)
Thank you! You named some of my all time favorites and they still move my heart after all these years.

Hey, nothing better than A-cappella.
I agree. I'm definitely a words person and tend to hear the "stories" within music sooner than I hear the beat. And yes, all of those songs and songtellers are perfect examples of just another expression of the same Truth we are all telling. I wonder how many festivals your critic had been to. I have quite a few tellers who use music well and have a wonderful following because of the fact they are following their own talents rather someone else's super-imposed perceptions.
Storytelling: The use of the voice to convey a narrative. Some of my favorite storytellers use music to tell their stories. I will say I'm a bit of a purest, as I believe that an author is a writer of story, not a teller. A dancer is a Dancer of Story not a teller, and a filmmaker is a conveyor of story not a teller. But when you use your voice to tell a story, then you are a storyteller. I have heard singer sing a ballad but did not tell a story. They sang words to music. They could have use any words. But if you tell a story using music to help, you are a storyteller.
There is my $0.02
Daniel Bishop, the Storyteller
Good point. Voice is used in both. I have also heard story tellers who did not tell a story....but we won't go there. : )

Ohh so true. Stringing two words together does not a story make. I have heard two people give the same story, one was painful, the other was magic.
Similarly some probably would say telling in poetry or verse isn't storytelling. Yet it's communication & it does have the ability to be varied to match its listeners within the context of the fixed words. That's how the great epic tales began.

I've been working at adding music to my storytelling for the variety it provides. Today's audiences sometimes need a change of pace & this is 1 of many ways. Often a ballad can be the perfect lead into a story continuing a theme touched in a song. You mention writing ballads, so this is especially possible, more for you than for those who simply sing something they find.

To add to the names of balladeers who told stories in song: early in my storytelling life I heard Gamble Rogers. He is singing & telling his tales in the Great Beyond, but exposure to him helped me understand & broaden my definition of storytelling before it became etched in stone.

In the case of existing ballads, I've seen them used as an introduction to a story that was told. I'm thinking of Leanne Johnson's telling of The Singing Bone. She & her harp also are no longer with us, but, like that story of an instrument that tells a tale of murder, this still plays in my mind. Whether retelling the story an old ballad provides or giving us your own ballad, it is oral storytelling & that is the stated purpose of this network.

Keep on telling...whatever way communicates in a live, direct manner between you & your listeners. It IS real storytelling to a great many of us.
Thank you so much for sharing. Storytelling in whatever capacity keeps our heritage alive and lives from becoming mundane!
Yes, indeed! Thanks.
Richelle, Thanks for this, I *absolutely* agree, in fact I was just pondering the same thing a couple of days ago...

There are so many wonderful ways to tell a story. I hope I get to hear some of your story ballads one day.
best wishes,




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